Identifying anxiety in children and adolescents isn’t always easy. Emotions can feel enormous and very scary to kids. This is true even when those emotions aren’t anxiety. Children and teens are still learning to identify what their emotions are. They often can’t put words to the thoughts and feelings racing through their bodies.
This is because kids and teens are still developing—not just physically, but emotionally and socially as well. They’re not yet able to understand what they’re feeling. The signs of anxiety, nevertheless, are still a result of the fight-or-flight response. This physiological response is designed to protect us from danger, whether real or perceived.
As a result, emotional issues such as anxiety often come out differently than they do for adults. But understanding what these signs can look like offers signposts to getting help.
As parents, it’s easy to become frustrated when our children are obstinate or argumentative. It’s hard to understand why they suddenly go into a rage with little to no warning. Our natural response is often to become irritated because we don’t immediately see what is triggering the behavior.
Anger, however, is often a sign of anxiety when it happens regularly. Anxiety is frightening and scary. Kids don’t know how to cope with it, so they react with anger. This is the “fight” part of the fight-or-flight response. They are trying to protect themselves but don’t know how. This comes out as anger, irritability, and destructive behavior.
It’s vital to look for the causes underneath angry behavior rather than dismissing it as a misbehaving problem child. Blaming an anxious child for their outbursts will only make the problem worse.
2. Aches and Pains
Anxiety is a very physical experience. The entire body is affected, not just the mind and emotions. Muscles become tight with tension. Surges of adrenaline make the heart race and increase respiration rates. Stomach aches and intestinal disruptions also occur because of these changes.
Anxiety can make anyone experience aches and pains. Kids and teens are no exception. If your child frequently complains of these, take note.
Along with the aches and pains that can occur with childhood anxiety, tiredness and fatigue are also symptoms. It can be hard to make the connection between tiredness and anxiety, though.
However, anxiety can cause fatigue in the same way it can cause aches and pains. When the body experiences these constant physical symptoms, it becomes tired, just as it would as a result of physical activity.
4. Withdrawal and Avoidance
Kids and teens with anxiety issues frequently withdraw from certain activities. They may try to get out of going to school. Perhaps they complain of a tummy ache whenever it’s time for sports practice. They may stop hanging out with certain friends.
Withdrawal and avoidance are common signs of childhood anxiety. By withdrawing, children are trying to avoid feeling anxiety. There may be a bully at soccer practice or a teacher at school who is overly negative. The possibilities are many. Pay attention when you notice this behavior.
5. Sleep Problems
Anxiety is notorious for causing sleep problems, even if someone is exhausted. Worries often race through a child’s brain, making them too scared to sleep. The biochemicals released as a result of anxiety are intended to keep us on high alert so we can protect ourselves. Unfortunately, in uncontrolled anxiety, the brain doesn’t distinguish between a real danger or one that’s in our mind. It responds the same.
If your child’s sleep patterns become disturbed, remember to consider anxiety.
We’ve worked with many anxious children and teens at our practice. We know what methods work to help them manage and even overcome their fears. If you suspect your child is struggling with anxiety, please call our office for a free phone consultation.